Page last updated at 01:14 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 02:14 UK

MPs in knives 'arms race' warning

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

A man holding a knife
More than 4,300 knives have been taken off the streets since May 2008

An MPs' committee says a knife-crime "arms race" has developed with young people carrying knives because they fear others may do so too.

The Home Affairs Committee said knife carrying was driven by teenagers lacking faith in police and parents.

The MPs said knife crime plans should target complex root causes in deprived inner cities in England and Wales.

They also called on the government to ban violent video games from secure units and young offender institutions.

Fatal stabbings comprise a tiny minority of all knife offences and over the last decade they have accounted for roughly a third of all homicides.

But there was a significant rise in deaths in 2007 and 2008 - leading to more high profile media reporting of knife crime. It is still unclear whether this jump was significant.

In their wide-ranging and detailed report, the Commons Home Affairs Committee said that the vast majority of those who were carrying a weapon were doing so for their own protection.

Images of all 72 teenagers who were violently killed in 2008
We need a new tack here, at least partly based on making young people feel safer and reducing the exposure to violence in their lives
Keith Vaz, committee chairman

In some deprived areas knife carrying was almost becoming normal, said the report.

It said this "arms race" was partly worsened by sensationalist media coverage

The MPs backed police tactics of increasing the number of stop-and-searches - but also called for a broader strategy to target root causes.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: "Young people carry knives because they fear that others are carrying knives.

"This spiralling of knife possession puts all young people at risk. Too many tragic deaths have occurred because of this. We have to stop this arms race.

"We need a new tack here, at least partly based on making young people feel safer and reducing the exposure to violence in their lives.

"We were impressed by the work of the 'gang exit' groups we spoke to, and by the success of Youth Inclusion Programmes."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "This report recognises the hard work taking place up and down the country.

Keith Vaz MP: "We have to stop the arms race"

"It is also encouraging to see that the latest statistics show that the number of deaths from stabbings fell from 59 in the last quarter of 2007 to 52 in the last quarter of 2008."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "The committee is absolutely right to say that we need to tackle the root social causes of knife crime.

"But we've also got to be much tougher on those committing acts of anti-social behaviour to prevent them from going on to commit more serious offences, like knife crime, later in life."

And Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "This report rightly suggests that knife crime is far too complicated a social problem to be solved with threats of prison alone.

"We need to move away from political posturing towards what we know works to combat knife crime.

"The best place to start is to ensure that every hospital shares data with their local police force to map knife crime hot-spots and police them intensively."

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